LGBT Muslims: Starting a Conversation
Several days ago, a popular Muslim magazine called “Aquila Asia” posted an article titled “Freedom to Love”. The article related the stories of some LGBT Muslims in their struggle to reconcile their faith & sexual orientation. Aquila Asia received many hateful & vitriolic comments because of it, and I can understand why.
In the deluge of disapproving comments from fans on their Facebook page, a representative from Aquila Asia wrote the following:
Dear respected fans, readers and followers of Aquila Style. In this and other opinion articles, Aquila Style does not seek to condone or promote any particular lifestyle.
Regarding this article, Freedom to Love, the issue of homosexuality remains one of the most controversial to many followers of Islam. After all, as mentioned in the article itself, the Qur’an and certain hadiths state that homosexuality is haram in Islam.
The reality remains that LGBT Muslims do exist. The writer of this article examines the issue from his personal perspective, using facts to shed light on the views and lives of gay and lesbian Muslims who, despite their professed faith and devotion to Islam, sometimes find themselves ostracised or trapped.
This issue is a real one and is deserving of discussion. Aquila Style is committed to covering topics – from the mundane to the provocative – in a responsible, factual manner, encouraging our respected readers to form their own opinions.
Despite their sincere efforts in wanting to cover topics “from the mundane to the provocative – in a responsible, factual manner”, here are some reasons why the article received the treatment it did.
One: The title of the article.
A title serves to give an indication of what the article is about. It gives clues to what the writer might say. Giving a title such as “Freedom to Love” is highly problematic because it insinuates that if you don’t allow people to choose who they love, you are forcing them to love something/someone else, but that is not the premise of the article.
The article is about LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual) Muslims’ struggle. The focus is on the struggle to reconcile, not freedom. Therefore, it is easy for regular Facebookers who see that link on Aquila Asia’s to assume that the article is about giving gay Muslims the freedom to choose who they love, and that is why they made the connection to the article’s existence to Aquila Asia’s condonement of homosexuality.
Titles are also meant to be catchy. In the world of social media and 150 character limit, writers are clamouring for the attention of their readers and others. I can understand that this may have been a tactic used by either the writer or the editor to achieve that end. However, one should never underestimate the effect a title might have, as Aquila Asia might have learned with this episode.
Two: The writer presupposed that homosexuality is natural.
There are far too many explanations for and against homosexuality being natural. If you want to know if there is a biological difference between LGBTs and heterosexuals, there is a study that supports it. If you believe that people develop homosexual tendencies due to family history, past traumatic experiences and other influences, a psychologist has written about it too.
The bottom-line is: researchers look for subjects to study to support their hypothesis. Perhaps what is needed is to conduct a mass survey and study of LGBT Muslims in Singapore to truly find out their story. Interviewing 3-4 of them does not qualify you to presuppose that it is indeed natural and beyond control.
Three: The angle of the article.
The writer of the article, Ab Syahid, gave anecdotes from LGBT Muslims and then proceeded to link their struggle to the civil rights movement and the feminist movement. Although that is how most people writing about the LGBT community will end their article, he should have been more aware of his role as a Muslim writer and his readers – the Muslim community.
It is true that the civil rights movement and the feminist movement were long and arduous and sought to give freedom to the African American people and women. And it is also true that the current LGBT movement looks set to take that course. BUT, the struggle of the Muslim LGBT community is DIFFERENT from the struggle of the LGBT community in general. They may share the plight of discrimination from their families and communities, but LGBT Muslims also face another struggle: that of scriptural prohibition.
When religion come into the picture, which is what the writer intended to highlight, then he cannot ignore the significance that faith plays in the struggle of the LGBT Muslims and how that will affect their participation in the movement. By mentioning the successes of the civil rights movement and the feminist movement, he is insinuating that the acceptance of the LGBT community (and by extension, the LGBT Muslim community) is something to be expected.
While that may be true, it would have been wiser for him to delve a bit deeper and ask more pertinent & relevant questions.
Do they exist? Yes, of course they do. But the general Muslim population have chosen to either ignore this fact, or react with anger and hatred at their mere existence. Local Muslim scholars have not learned how to go about talking about this issue, or have also responded with disdain, further ostracizing the LGBT community.
I am not proposing that we encourage them and support them in their struggle to be accepted. I am asking that we look at them like we look at any other Muslim who is sinning, which then includes any other Muslim sinner.
Is having homosexual tendencies (being attracted to a member of the same sex is different from engaging in sodomy or pursuing illicit relations with a member of the same sex) a bigger sin than the tendency to lie, cheat, steal or kill? If a man gets aroused by looking at another man, is he sinning more than the man who gazes at a sexy woman and then gets aroused?
There is no question that it is a sin if they act upon those desires, the same way it is a sin if a man acts upon his desire to commit zina, or to steal or to kill. In the Qur’an, it is said regarding the people of Prophet Lut (AS) who “practise your lusts on men in preference to women” that they are “indeed transgressing beyond bounds”.
We know that Allah tests us in different ways. So maybe He tested you with poverty, or disability or sickness, and He has tested them with such temptations and desires. Do we say to someone who is worried about his financial status that he is headed for hell? No. So why do we tell a gay Muslim that he is headed for hell? Why the discrepancy?
You would tell the first Muslim to be patient, make du’a and ask Allah to help him. Does that advice not apply to the latter? If a person is tested with such homosexual tendencies, their tests are greater, and their reward for abstaining and overcoming are greater still.
Engaging the LGBT Muslims
As I have mentioned before, we should look at them the same way we look at any other sinning Muslim (which includes every Muslim). We have to also engage them, speak to them, advise them the same way as any other sinning Muslim (again, every single Muslim).
This was an advice I had read from a Muslim scholar who was asked about how to deal with his openly-homosexual friends and colleagues:
If someone is eating pork, drinking alcohol, making fornication, these are are acts that Allah (swt) does not like. This does not mean that we should humiliate people involved, showing them an ugly or hateful face. Rather we should hate the action and try to look to what honor, good qualities we can see in those people and let Allah be the ultimate Judge.
We cannot lie and say that homosexuality is accepted in Islam, but we must use wisdom and always encourage and invite to what is good. The Prophet (s) said: “Give good tidings and do not drive people away”. We work and live among people of different faiths, beliefs and behaviors but companionship and friendship is something else.
Allah says:’O you who believe, be conscious of Allah and be with the Trustworthy (Sadiqin)‘ (Tawba, 9:119)
The sadiqin are those who kept their covenant from the Day of Promises by worshiping Allah and following his Prophet (saws). When you look at them you remember Allah (swt) and His Prophet (saws).
We see in the example of our shuyukh who tolerate all types of bad behavior from people but their source of belief and character is steadfastly from the Prophet (s), not those who are living in that harmful behavior.
The prophets and awliya are like Suns that can absorb and transform bad character into light. You see transformation in those who keep companionship and listen to their teachings, they help people to change while miraculously maintaining their dignity. This is the way of our Beloved Prophet (s). They also encourage this method in their students and to all Muslims, to be good examples in the community by purifying their own character and leaving judgment to Allah.
Ostracizing and humiliating the LGBT Muslims in Singapore and elsewhere will not bring them closer to their faith.
We have to follow the Prophetic Way and invite them to good. Even if there is no recorded tradition of a Companion approaching the Prophet (S) regarding their gay tendencies, news of such behaviour has reached him (S) and he condemned those acts.
Bringing them to majlis of ilm, Islamic lectures and gatherings that remember Allah SWT will strengthen their faith and give them the resolve they need to overcome their tendencies, the same way we are in need of such majlis & gatherings for us to overcome our own tendencies, be they the tendency to backbite, show off, steal or kill.
Another scholar was recently asked, “I am a male and single and never been married. Unfortunately I’ve always felt more attracted towards men. I am very unhappy about this and really want to lead a life that was taught to us by Prophet Muhammad (S). I have tried to get married but have always been scared of not being able to perform my duty as a husband and of not being able to love a woman and to bring happiness to her.
Please pray for me that Allah helps me to change. I want to accomplish the Sunnah of Marriage.”
His reply was, “I met many men with the same problem, some married and some unmarried. But now most of them are living a happy life; that is by praying 2 rakaats and going into sajda after that and ask Allah swt to take that desire away.
Allah is Kareem, He will take it away from you if you are asking from your heart. If you are not asking from your heart, that will come back. So do 2 rakaat and sajda and ask to remove that. And do a lot of salawat on Prophet and istighfar. Insha-Allah you will be OK.”
In conclusion, speaking about the topic of homosexuality for a Muslim audience is indeed a difficult task but it has to be done because we are aware that they exist not only within the Muslim community, but without. Ignoring it or responding to it with hatred and disdain will not help matters.
There is a difference between hating the act, and hating the actor. I believe that the vast majority of LGBT Muslims do NOT engage in such acts, but are sincere in seeking Allah’s Pleasure and are finding a way to deal with the desires and feelings that they may experience.
There is also a need to differentiate the fact that being open to talking about this issue is NOT equal to being accepting of the issue (i.e. allow LGBT Muslims to marry within the same sex etc). We are merely starting a conversation where we can engage them and bring them closer, not further away, while respecting the boundaries that Islam has set for leading a happy life, here and Hereafter.
May Allah help us in getting closer to Him and to fight our nafs and to overcome all the inner battles that we are fighting on a daily basis. May Allah give us strength to change for the better.
Ameera is the Editor of Muzlimbuzz.sg, a chronic reader and a news junkie.